CHRISTMAS – ARE WE IN DANGER OF MISSING THE POINT?

nativity

There’s nothing quite like a traditional British Christmas! The hustle and bustle of Christmas shopping; the writing of cards and the exchange of presents; the decoration of houses both inside and out, and the turning on of lights on the Christmas tree. Christmas is a time for rest and relaxation, family get-togethers and stories of childhood. A time for mulled wine, cake and mince pies besides a real open fire. It’s a time to fondly remember those who are no longer with us and make plans for all we shall see in the new year. It’s a time to ‘eat, drink and be merry’, ‘peace and good will to all men’ and dream of snow, Rudolf, robins and Father Christmas. And – O yes – there’s church for those who want it!

Of course, there is nothing wrong with any of the things listed above – but if Christmas really is, just about rest and relaxation and time spent with families – then are we as individuals (and indeed as a nation), in danger of missing the point? It would certainly seem so if the Archbishop of Canterbury’s recent conversations are anything to go by. The Telegraph has printed a story where Justin Welby notes that there is a fundamental lack of ‘religious literacy’ in Government circles about those who are religious. They want the church to back them when it comes to promoting basic “British Values” but fail to appreciate that many of these values stem from our Christian religious heritage. In their efforts to understand religious extremism (mainly Islamic) they fail to understand that Christians are also motivated ‘first and foremost’ by their Christian faith and are desperately playing ‘catch up’ when it comes to appreciating the differences between these two religions and others.

So like government, have we all tended to take our ‘Christian Heritage’ for granted, so much so, that like music in a shopping mall it just becomes background noise and largely filtered out? So, in a world which is desperately crying out for peace, have we largely forgotten the ‘Prince of Peace’? Have we forgotten the real meaning of Christmas? I hope not! Christmas is about a loving God, who so loved the world that despite its shortcomings he literally steps into it. Christmas is about a young man who was both at one with his humanity but also his divinity. Christmas is not just about a baby that was born in Bethlehem but the man who died in Jerusalem and rose again. Christmas is all about the one who died for our sins so that we might be forgiven of them. Christmas is all about the start of a process where a loving God puts things right through the power of the resurrection – including us. Christmas is therefore fundamentally a celebration for all about a God who loves us.

So on Christmas Day, we could be left with a lot of empty parcels, that we may or may not, appreciate on Boxing Day, but the significance of Christmas for Christians is that in Jesus Christ every day is Christmas Day and worth celebrating. That’s the point of Christmas!

So may I wish you all a very happy Christmas and warmly invite you to celebrate it with us. God bless you all.


‘The angel said, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born… he is Christ the Lord”.’ Luke 2.10-11


 

THE OLYMPIC STORY BEHIND CHRIST THE REDEEMER!

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What a wonderful Olympics it has been! After months of worry and uncertainly about the Stadium, the Zika virus and political unrest, Rio 2016 has been a great success. Certainly from a British point of view there has been a lot to cheer about – not only have the women’s eight matched the men with gold medals in the rowing for the first time ever, but Max Whitlock has become Team GB’s first ever gymnastics champion (twice!); Justin Rose became the first man to win the golf at the Olympics since it was last played in 1904 and Andy Murray put us all through the mill as he successfully defended his tennis title first won at London 2012. At this time of writing, the athletics is well underway and Team GB find themselves, somewhat surprisingly second on the medal table in front of China – but will it last? But of course, the tales of inspirational human endeavour aren’t simply tied to those who’ve come away with a medal but to all those who have done their best to be ‘the best they can be’ despite the odds (who can forget the efforts made by the Refugees Team, competing under the Olympic flag) and all such athletes should be proud. However, the sporting arena is not the only source of wonder and appreciation – the Brazilians have been commended for their warm welcome, hospitality and sense of fun, along with their beautiful country, ranging from the beautiful Copacabana beach at Rio to the magnificent statue of ‘Christ the Redeemer’ looking down upon the city from the Corcovado Mountain.

Although the statute isn’t the largest statue of Jesus to be found in the world it is considered to be an ‘art-deco’ masterpiece and is hugely iconic of Rio de Janeiro and symbolic of Brazil’s Catholic Christian heritage. The statue is 98 feet tall (not including it’s 26-foot-tall pedestal) and weighs 635 tonnes. There were several designs initially proposed but the familiar statue we recognise today with its open arms (measuring 92 feet wide) was specifically chosen to represent the love of Christ for the world who will warmly welcome and embrace all who come to him. The statue was originally built in 1922 and took 9 years to complete, and was officially declared one of the ‘New Seven Wonders of the World’ on 7th July 2007.

This wonderful statue of Jesus is of course called ‘Christ the Redeemer’ but why and what is so special about redemption? Well, redemption literally means ‘buying back’ and was often used in the ancient world of slaves buying their freedom or having it bought for them. One of the greatest acts of redemption in the Bible (and which has coloured the way this word is used ever since) was when God bought his people out of slavery in Egypt to give them freedom in the promised land. The problem was, that over the years the people found themselves repeatedly bound as slaves by successive regimes and therefore in need of a ‘new redemption’. The early Christians understood this in the most radical of ways, they saw it as pointing to the poverty of their own human condition, they were constantly ‘in slavery to death and sin’. What they needed was a redeemer! Someone who would be able to pay the price for their sin and lead them to freedom and new life. That person was Jesus! His self-giving, sacrificial death upon the cross was truly Olympic in its magnitude, the most dramatic, inspiring and generous gift of God’s love the world had ever seen. His death was the price paid for our ‘redemption’, the innocent dying for the guilty, but of course the Gospel story doesn’t conclude with Christ’s death but his resurrection! His rising from the grave was the first sign, evidence and promise of future hope and life everlasting. A precious gift warmly and freely given to anyone who wishes to receive it and puts their faith and trust in Jesus as their personal Lord, Saviour and Redeemer. The Olympics may be glorious; the games have been thankfully largely harmonious, and the athletic achievements truly inspirational – but the story behind the Christ the Redeemer statue is even more so and gives us all the chance of reaching our full potential and ‘being better than we can be despite the odds’.


We are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. Romans 3.24


 

LET’S CELEBRATE THE PRINCE OF PEACE THIS CHRISTMAS

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In the light of recent atrocities carried out around the world and especially those in November carried out in Paris in the name of the so called ‘Islamic State’, it’s easy to see why some people take the view that it’s religion which is the cause of all evil, suffering and division. It’s especially easy to adopt this perspective if you have no religious faith of your own and yet wish to find some sort of convenient explanation as to why there should be so much sadness, suffering, anger and hate in the world, whilst at the same time distancing oneself from it. Unfortunately this view is rather too simplistic and doesn’t actually tell the whole story. For instance, it doesn’t adequately explain why so many of the victims of ‘Islamic State’ have actually been Muslim, or why some of the recent Islamic extremists weren’t particularly religious until they became radicalised. Neither does it recognise the vast amount of good that is done by people of faith and particularly by Christians up and down the land. The truth is that although none of us are perfect, there are some truly horrible people in the world, who at the slightest insult will do all that they can to ‘get even’, or take advantage, using whatever means, power or influence they have to gain control and satisfy their own wicked ends, regardless of the cost to others or the number of people they hurt. When sufficient individuals gather together in such a way, they have the means to become an expression of pure evil.

However, CHRISTMAS IS A REMINDER THAT THE WORLD DOES NOT HAVE TO BE LIKE THIS! At Christmas, the Christian celebrates the wonderful truth that ‘Almighty God’, the Creator of the universe, steps into his creation. He literally stepped into this forlorn and broken world in the person of Jesus, arriving not as a conquering king, tyrant or dictator, but as a tiny, fragile, vulnerable little baby; not as a superman immune to our trials and tribulations, but as a human being, walking, talking and experiencing the joys and pains of life just like each and every one of us. His ambition therefore was not to control the world or coerce its inhabitants in any way, but to transform it, starting with its people – by giving each and every man, woman and child the possibility of a new start and a new life ‘in Christ’. This is done by a simple act of repentance, a true and genuine act of contrition for every bad thing that we have ever said or done which spoils our lives and those of the people around us. It is not simply a case of saying sorry (as important as that is) or trying to be good (for who can be good enough?). It is done by putting one’s faith in the person of Jesus, acknowledging him to be our Lord and Saviour who dies for us upon the cross wiping out our sin, and indeed the sin of the world, and offering us forgiveness in its place. This is an act of pure and unadulterated love on the part of God, who ‘loved the world so much that he gave his one and only son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life’ (John 3.16). This is not simply an act of atonement but of peace, for how can we hate ourselves or the people around us if we know that God has expressed his love for us in the person of Jesus and dies for them, offering the same promise of hope, joy and peace to us all? This is truly GOOD NEWS and can make a world of difference to the world in which we live. No wonder Jesus is called the ‘Prince of Peace’!

‘For unto us a child is born…. Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace’. Isaiah 9.6